LadyFace's Chella Negro: Dick jokes are dead, but sketch comedy is alive and kicking
Before forming LadyFace with friends Melanie Karnopp, Kristin Rand, Timmi Lasley and Mara Wiles, Chella Negro had never done comedy. The musician had clocked thousands of hours on stage as a singer-songwriter, though, and after hanging around the comedy crowd and hosting Denver's Ladies Laugh-In stand-up night, she was ready. Though stand-up wasn't her thing, the theater major found a place to write, create and star in several sketch-comedy shows a year with the other members of LadyFace.
In advance of the troupe's one-year anniversary show, LadyFace Presents: A Year Of The Face this Sunday, November 18 at Comedy Works South, the multi-tasking Negro talked with Westword about LadyFace's inception, her compartmentalization as a performer, and the death of the dick joke.
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Westword: A lot of people know you for your music. How did you get into sketch comedy?
The ladies of LadyFace.
Chella Negro: I just started hanging out with stand-up comedians. My best friend wanted to do stand-up and asked me to go with him to some open mics. At this point, I was pretty heavily into the Denver music scene, so I thought, why don't I see what everybody else is doing?
We went to the Squire and at first, watching all of these people do stand-up, I was like, I can do this. I talk on stage all the time -- it's no big deal. I can do it. Then I started hanging out more and getting to know everybody and seeing the real craft behind what they do and realized, oh, I can't do stand-up. I can do a lot of things, but I can't do stand-up. (Laughs.) So I've never actually done stand-up.
I started hosting Ladies Laugh-In at Beauty Bar, and that got me more involved in the community. I made some great friends: Timmi (Lasley) and Mara (Wiles, both of LadyFace) spent a lot of time together. One day, we were just sitting around talking about how everybody's got a show, and we thought, we're funny -- we can do a show.
We thought about what was missing in Denver, and there isn't a lot of sketch comedy here. So we thought, let's do a sketch-comedy show. We asked Kristen (Rand) and Melanie (Karnopp) to join up, too, and there you go.
My background is actually in theater, music and voice performance; that's what I have a degree in. That doesn't pay the bills. You have to do other things. (Laughs)
Do you feel like what you do with your music and what you do with comedic performance are two separate projects?
I think one helps the other, immensely. I'm a folk singer: I have a band, The Charm. But sometimes I play shows, as I started out, by myself. It definitely helped me to be around comedy; I [learned how to] make transitions between songs. It made entertaining smoother, not just like, this is a song about a guy I hate. (Laughs.) You have maybe a minute between songs to say something quick and clever and get people engaged, and that's what comedy is all about. It's been really helpful.
It's also been interesting, dealing with the two worlds -- you're introduced as a comic in some places and introduced as a musician in others. The comedy world here is close-knit and really supportive. But it can be dicey when you're hanging out with eight stand-up comics and someone introduces you as a comic and the rest of them go, (whispers) she's not a comic. I have to be really careful with how I word it.
I think there's this thing where the word "comic," it can mean different things. To a lot of people here it means stand-up, and people are protective of their stages. So I say, I do sketch comedy. I'm a sketch comic, if people need to put a label on what I do.
I want to be the Dean Martin of Denver: I can sing, I can be funny, I can get silly and I can host a show. Basically, I just want to get paid the most possible. Get the most stage time as possible. (Laughs.)
Stage time is money.
Well, and it's fun. It lets me do what I went to school for, what I actually paid money and put time into. I get to perform, I get to act. And I don't do that when I play music. When I moved here, straight out of school, all I was thinking was, I need to get a band here. I need to play music and I need to sing. That was my focal point for, god, I've been here for thirteen years? It seemed really hard to get into the theater community without having any credits here. And for so long I worked on establishing myself musically that I didn't even think about it.
It's so funny: I've never felt more compartmentalized than I do when I'm introduced to people. All it does is make the other person comfortable in dealing with you. I've just decided, if that's what you need, that's okay. If you need to say, she's not a comic, then fine. You'd never heard someone say, she's not a musician because she does comedy. You know? It's really weird.